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Hitting and biting are normal behaviors for young children, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't address the behavior. Teach your child to express his or her feelings in other ways with these strategies.
Read more about hitting and biting.
Lee Atkinson-McEvoy is a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at UCSF. She enjoys seeing a diverse population of patients for routine pediatric primary care.
Video produced by Paige Bierma.
Hitting and biting are normal behaviors in young children. They oftentimes start in a moment of feeling overwhelmed or out of control, and they can be reinforced by your response. In young infants, the strategy to manage when a hit or a bite happens is to use distraction and a simple firm no.
An example of distraction is giving them a different toy that they can bite on as opposed to hitting or biting a person. If they're in a situation where they're feeling overwhelmed, removing them from that situation and taking them to another location often serves a sufficient distraction.
In young toddlers, a firmer verbal cue, a natural consequence for the behavior, and a simple statement as follow-up are very effective in limiting the behavior. For example, if you're carrying your 2-year-old and he bites your shoulder, a firm, stern "no biting," having him be transported in the stroller or walking on his own, is a natural consequence for the behavior, and following up with "I can't carry you if you bite me" is a simple statement that you can use to help redirect behavior.
In addition, consistency amongst all caregivers is important and effective, so all caregivers should have a "no hitting, no biting" policy and should react with the same firm but stern response. If you child hits or bites another child at the playground or school, a good strategy immediately is to go approach the child who was hit or bitten with an affectionate or at least sympathetic statement, "I'm really sorry that Johnny hit you. I'm sure that hurt." Then turn to your child and say, "No hitting, no biting," and have a natural consequence for the behavior. For example, "You need to sit down on the bench next to me and you cannot have another turn on the slide" or "We need to leave the park if you can't play nicely with other children." Having this reinforced and be a consistent set of expectations can help to limit the behavior.
In addition, providing reinforcing praise when you child makes good decisions to control their behavior can help to reinforce using good judgment in situations where they're upset.